Saturday, July 28, 2012

Spotty Goes to Heaven

I remember once reading a Dear Abby column in which a mom sought  advice about how to console her son after he asked his evangelical pastor if the family's recently deceased pet was in heaven, and was told only people have souls, so no way Fido was behind the Pearly Gates. Made me think: what a jerk - AND  a speciest!

Well this morning I had to break the news to the boys that one of their two "teenage" guinea pigs, Spotty,  had passed away last night. He was  3 1/2 - at the bottom range of life expectancy for a cavy.

Gus's initial reaction was to say, "Oh! That's probably why when we had him out of his cage yesterday he just sat there." Then he added, "Well, he's with his dad again. And his mom and sister, right?"


"So it's a good thing," he concluded. And Niko added, "I bet they're all having a lot of fun up in heaven."


Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Niko has a bad habit of insisting on relating stories he couldn't possibly have experienced. For example, the other day as a special treat I bought the boys Jiffy Pop.  As we shook and rattled the pan, Niko said, "Remember the time that Gracie ate the flying kernels?"  Yes, I did. But he didn't.

Our best friends, John and Sabine, were visiting us when we first moved to Oakland, years before the boys were born. We decided to try our hand at Jiffy Pop. Suddenly, as John shook and rattled the pan, popped kernels began to fly out of a small tear in the foil. As they soared out of the pan across the room, Gracie snatched them mid-air like a four-legged Barry Bonds catching fly balls. One after another - POP! WHIZ! SNAP!

The laughter pealing out of Sabine, Kelly and me came to a momentary stop when the rip in the foil allowed some hot oil to ignite an extra bit of the cardboard cover bursting it into flames, and sending even more popcorn flying - more than Gracie or Barry Bonds could catch! Seeing it collect on the floor sent us back into bent-over guffaws. And  we've teased John mercilessly ever since - in the way only best friends can.

I guess I should look at Niko's habit in a slightly different light - he's helping us keep alive the memories of  the type of friendship very few people are lucky enough to really experience.

Besides, popcorn flying, cardboard flaming, Gracie snapping corn midair is really, really funny stuff!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Part of My DNA

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to tell me about her childhood growing up in her horio (a small village) in Greece. Her stories made it all sound so romantic and exotic.

By the time I made a pilgrimage to Agios Vaselios (very loosely translated as St. William) in the Arkadian mountains of the Peloponnese, nearly 20 years after Yia yia had passed away, I found it far more recognizable than exotic.


At the time, I chalked it up to being far more worldly than I had been as a child.  When you've been in Red Square and Tiananmen Square, waded in the Baltic and the Gulf of Tonkin, seen the sun rise over the Gobi and over Angkor Wat, slept among the ancient redwoods and in the red rock deserts, a picturesque village in Greece isn't so exotic.

Don't get me wrong - seeing it, being in what was left of my grandmother's childhood home, walking the same narrow streets she had, touching the water that flowed from the fountain of lions' mouths, meant more to me than any of those other adventures. But it didn't hold the same exotic sway.


It wasn't until I became a father that I truly understood why her village wasn't exotic to me, it was too familiar to be - and not just from hearing stories. Nor was it because this had been her home, her siblings' home and her father's home (from whom I received my name and a red beard.) No, it is because Agios Vaselios isn't just their horio it is my horio too.

Today as I hung the laundry out to dry (to my knowledge the only person in my neighborhood to use a clothes line), and the chickens ran around the fruit trees furtively peeking over their shoulder to see if I'd noticed they were inching closer to the vegetable garden, it dawned on me: I don't need to be from Agios Vaselios to be of it.

Panagia hanging out
It manifests itself in me like a part of my DNA - I see it around my house in the everyday items that somehow instinctively had to be there: my laundry hanging out to dry, my chickens running around, the vegetable garden. I see it in the Greek flag we fly, the mati on the front door to protect us from the evil eye, the icons on our walls, trumpet vines and rose bushes in the yard.

 The boys have been asking when we're going to go to Greece like I promised them we would. Maybe in the next couple of years, I tell them. I hope when they arrive in Agios Vaselios, they'll understand that the recognition and familiarity stems from the place being their horio too.



Today's harvest of squash, tomatoes and eggs (yes, they're green-blue)
Mabel2 checking the lawn for something good too eat

Aphrodite and Stavroula checking out the shade
Yia yia Peeps and Eleni sneaking toward the vegetable garden


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

You Won't Like Me When I'm Angry

My Theia Matina always used to say, "If I didn't know any better, I'd swear that kid is Greek - just look at his temper!" She was speaking about Niko, of course.

As sweet, kind and accommodating as he can be, Niko is also stubborn, demanding and temperamental.

Yesterday, for example, he needed only to finish his dinner and we could all go visit Papou, who had recently returned from a short road trip. But he didn't want to finish his dinner. Warning: no dinner, no visit with Papou.

He glared and again proclaimed his refusal to eat his dinner. I told him in no uncertain terms that we wouldn't be going to Papou's, and he still had to finish his dinner. He replied by shoving his plate across the table, spilling what was left of his dinner along the way, as it skidded to a stop just inches from the edge.

That little maneuver got him sent to his room immediately, where he proceeded to destroy it: ripping the cover off the electric fan, pushing the CD player over, tearing the life-sized self portrait to shreds. I half expected to see him barrel through the door with bulging green muscles shredding his clothes to pieces.

Unimpressed,  I went about my business. It wasn't long before I heard him cleaning things up. He came out of his room, his self-portrait crumbled in a big ball, sobbing, "I need to throw this awaaaaaay."  I helped him put the fan and CD player back together, and then we just sat and quietly talked about what had happened.

This morning, Niko overhear me relating the story to my mom over the phone. He picked up on something I had joked with Mom about, and interrupted me to say, "Daddy, please don't send me to angry man classes!"

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sleeping with the Anti-Christ

One of my many, many childhood quirks that made me such an adorable kid was my habit of sleepwalking and it's delightful companion sleep talking.  Growing up my parents found me on the top of the stairs, under tables, and even on the porch...sound asleep. My mom once witnessed me exit the front door and make my way to the lawn, where the cold, wet grass jostled me awake and I stood blinking confusedly.

Often times - especially as an adult - my sleepwalking was triggered by anxiety.  I first recognized this when I was in 10th grade.  I had a small part, one or two lines, in the school play, Our Town.  My Theia Mimi made me a pair of knickers for the part by sewing elastic in the leg holes of a pair of her old pants. (They were hideous, but seeing me in them nearly killed Mimi with laughter!).

When I went to bed the night after our first performance, the play was still heavy on my mind. I had a restless night; I remember I kept dreaming about playing multiple characters in every scene. In the morning I was exhausted...and my usually immaculate bedroom was strewn with clothes everywhere - the knickers, one leg turned inside out, were on my pillow - the result of a night of sleepwalking costume changes.

Since moving in with Kelly, my sleepwalking has become less frequent - however, he did once find me standing outside of our apartment in San Francisco at 1:00 a.m. excited about what a beautiful day it was - but my sleep talking has increased.

His favorites include:
  • Honorable mention - sitting straight up in bed and angrily dropping three staccato f-bombs, before laying back down;
  • Bronze - presenting to what must have been a very large group in our bedroom;
  • Silver - asking him if the vegetable crisper in the refrigerator was filled with snakes; and
  • Gold - flinging the blankets off of me and pounding on them with all my might as I yelled, "There's a rat in the bed!"
Yeah. The morning after that gold medal-winning performance, he emailed all our friends relaying with great amusement the events of the previous night and adding, "It's like sleeping with the Anti-Christ."

So why am I sharing all of this? Well, the boys have been sleep talkers from the first moment they formed real words, but neither of them had any sleep walker tendencies; well not until the other night.

I was up late writing, when I heard shuffling in the other room. At first I chalked it up to the guinea pigs, but then I heard a low mumbling.  The pigs shuffle, but they don't mumble.

Cautiously, I got up from the computer and peered into the play room. There, standing in front of a very confused-looking Gracie, was Niko.  I asked him what he was doing. No response. I asked him if he was OK. Nada. So I told him it was bedtime, and like a little wind-up toy, he pivoted on his heels, walked back up stairs to his bedroom, and crawled into bed.

In the morning I asked him why he had been come downstairs the night before. He looked at me like I was a gyro short of a combo plate.  Then, smiling, I asked him, "Don't you remember coming downstairs last night?" He shook his head. And I told him he had been sleepwalking.

Immediately, he grinned ear-from-ear, and an expression that seemed to say, "YES! This is going to be great!" crept over a rather mischievous face!

I just hope he never tries to stamp out imaginary rats in the bed - one Anti-Christ in the family is enough!

Monday, July 9, 2012

You Look Like a Monkey

Salt Lake's Hogle Zoo has always been a regional attraction, and with a multimillion dollar expansion of new exhibits, my sister Sandra and I invoked the Fr. Andrew Amendment and took the boys to the zoo today.


Here's what the boys got to see:

Bats (fruit)



Croc (little) 

Croc (big)
Elephants (mom and baby)

Gila (Monster!)


Golden Tamarin

Harbor Seal

Ibis (Scarlet)

Lynx (Siberian)






Polar Bear





Tiger (Amur)



And just for fun:

Good Egg Niko?

Prairie Dog Gus
Gus' new sign at Yia yia's
Meerkat Mayhem!

Friday, July 6, 2012

I'm Your Brother!

Being the youngest of 5 boys, I know a thing or two about the complicated dynamics of brotherhood - one minute you're best pals in the world, then next you're mortal enemies.  I also know that bigger brothers can be an amazing resource for helping younger brothers navigate the world to come.

For example, my brother John taught me how to drive a stick, how to sneak out of the window when I'd been sent to my room, and how to dance. Actually, come to think of it, maybe big brothers aren't such great role models: during the driving lesson John threw me out of the car in the middle of traffic because I kept killing the clutch, our dad caught me sneaking out of the window the first time I tried it (shoving me one-handed back through the open window), and John's dancing skills, well, let's just say there's a lot more to dancing than just moving your feet up and down in place.

Because of my experiences growing up, I know exactly when Gus is going to push his little brother's buttons - just because he can. And I know when Niko is going to annoy his big brother for the fun of it.

But I also get to witness some really, truly touching moments: when Gus is protective and helpful, and Niko lives in awe of Gus.

Yesterday, Gus helped Niko with his daily home work and helped him as Niko tries to learn to read (yup, we're mean parents who make our kids do a little school work during summer vacation). I like  moments like these because they provide a glimpse into a future relationship I think my the boys will eventually enjoy.

Of course, a few minutes later, they were back at each other, as Gus claimed control of the ice cream. Notice Niko's argument, "I'm your brother!"


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tennis, Anyone?

The first time I picked up a tennis racquet I was 10-years old. Like most kids, I hit it to Mars. But eventually, I got the hang of it and became I a weekend hacker, joined the USTA and everything.

In high school, I talked my way onto the tennis team, where I was a part of the top-seeded junior varsity doubles team.  I even played a couple of KSL / Salt Lake Tribune Love 5 tournaments - losing in the first round both years.

Then along came Kelly. And we started playing pretty regularly - sometimes 3-4x a week. And in all the years we played, I won exactly 1 set from him. (I bet he smirks when he reads that!)

We haven't played in several years, but the other day Kelly brought Gus a new racquet home from work. Gus' first racquet was a Christmas gift from his Theia Eleni, Theio Christos and cousin Ikaros in Greece when he was about 3.

So with Gus itching to try out his new racquet, and Niko inheriting his big brother's old one, we hit the courts.

I try to remind the kids something I never learned: this should be about fun, not to be taken too seriously, or you'll end up obsessing about how you've never beaten your partner!